UK government’s commitment to leading fight against corruption called in question by review of the Bribery Act

UK government’s commitment to leading fight against corruption called in question by review of the Bribery Act

It emerged at the end of July that the UK’s Department for Business, Innovation and Skills has been informally consulting business groups as to whether the Bribery Act poses a ‘problem’ for them. This was just a few days after Prime Minister David Cameron gave a major speech in Singapore saying that tackling corruption was the “economically right” thing to do and that acting to stop bribery “shouldn’t have to damage business, jobs and growth”.

There has been some suggestion that there has been heavy lobbying by business groups to get the Guidance to the Bribery Act reviewed. Business groups appear to want an exemption for facilitation payments and potentially thresholds for corporate hospitality below which they will not be prosecuted. Neil Carberry of the CBI was quoted in the Independent as saying: “we are pleased the government has decided to review the impact of the Act, which we have long been calling for. It should focus on how to tackle corruption while protecting the UK’s competitiveness.”

The Prime Minister, in a response to Parliamentary Question, confirmed that the Cabinet Office, as part of its Enforcement review has been looking at “the impact of bribery and corruption enforcement on business.”

The government appears to be undertaking this review despite the fact that there has so far been only one conviction under the Bribery Act since it entered into force in 2011, and none for either foreign bribery or under the Section 7 failure to prevent bribery offence.  Govenrment research published in mid July showed that 90% of Small and Medium Sized Enterprises surveyed said they had no problems with the Bribery Act and 89% said it had had no impact on their ability to export.

The BOND Anti-Corruption Group, of which Corruption Watch is a member, have flagged their concerns about plans to review the Guidance to the Cabinet Office Enforcement Review team in a submission here. The submission notes that the Guidance was already weakened following lobbying by business groups and that any attempts to weaken the Guidance still further would seriously damage the UK’s credibility. Indeed the UK is committed at the OECD’s Working Group on Bribery to strengthening the Guidance in key areas if it opens it up for review. The current Guidance has significant loopholes with regard to what is acceptable hospitality, to what extent companies are liable for subsidiaries and joint venture partners and whether companies listed on the London Stock Exchange are covered.